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StorageTek gets set for tape release

New tape library fits in standard racks and can tackle up to 100 terabytes. It's for midsize companies.

StorageTek unveiled a tape device for midsize businesses on Wednesday, amid signs that tape is preserving a place in data storage.

The tape back-up specialist also introduced software for monitoring data back-up operations and announced a partnership with Sun Microsystems in which the server giant will resell more StorageTek tape products.

The move comes as tape's role undergoes a change in corporate data centers. Once the primary means of backing up and recovering data from high-performance disk-drive devices, tape systems have moved down a notch with the advent of cheaper disk-based machines, said Bob Zimmerman, an analyst at Forrester Research. Those disk systems typically provide quicker restoration times for data.

Despite this, businesses are still shuttling data to tape drives for long-term archiving, Zimmerman said. "There's a huge data volume out there, and it eventually all ends up on tape," he said.

Disk storage specialist EMC recently underlined that tape systems still have their niche by announcing a partnership with Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC), a tape device company.

StorageTek's new product is the StreamLine SL500 tape library, which includes multiple tape drives and cartridges and a robotics system for moving the cartridges around. It comes with 30 cartridge slots that can be expanded to 500 for a storage capacity of more than 100 terabytes of uncompressed data, StorageTek said.

The SL500 is designed to fit in a standard data center rack and to support up to 18 tape drives, providing throughput rates of over 2 terabytes per hour. It can be used with LTO Gen-2 and other tape drive formats and will support SDLT in future versions, the company said.

Competitors such as ADIC make products to vie against the SL500, Zimmerman said. But he said StorageTek should have an advantage when it comes to building reliable tape devices for the midsize business market, because it has a background in making higher-end tape products.

Reliability is becoming a more important feature for tape devices as they get heavier use in companies, Zimmerman said. A decade ago, a tape device may have been operating just a quarter of the working day, to back up data in the evening hours, he said. Now they might be expected to work up to 70 percent of the time, he said.

StorageTek's new software is called Backup Resource Monitor and is designed to be used with its L-Series and StreamLine series tape libraries. It is designed to give customers a centralized, comprehensive view of their back-up infrastructure, from back-up applications to networking and tape-automation components, the company said.

Sun already resells StorageTek's L-700e and L-180 tape libraries. Under the new agreement, Sun will also handle StorageTek's StreamLine SL8500 library device.